By: Rebecca Gilman
At: AstonRep Theatre Company at Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark St. Tickets: 773-828-9129 or AstonRep.com; $25. Runs through: June 16
On its surface, Rebecca Gilman's 2007 drama The Crowd You're In With seems slight. It's just a 75-minute one-act featuring three couples and a close stoner friend at a North Side backyard barbecue on July 4, 2007, in Chicago.
But by its end, The Crowd You're In With is tinged with anger, hurt and regret. Like the Bob Dylan song "Positively 4th Street"hinted at in the title and mentioned in the text of the playGilman's drama emphasizes how friendships and relationships can be broken up over differing opinions and resentments.
The Crowd You're In With comes off more as a period piece now, but AstonRep Theatre Company's revival at Raven Theatre still resonates. The central conflict hinges on heterosexual couples arguing over the pros and cons of having children.
Barbecue hosts Jasper and Melinda ( Martin Diaz-Valdes and Sara Pavlak McGuire ) are in their thirties and mixed about trying to have a child. Meanwhile, their close married friends, Windsong ( Maggie Antonijevic ) and Dan ( Nick Freed ), are already seven months along with the pregnancy of their first child.
The first major clashes come with the arrival of Jasper and Melinda's landlords, Tom and Karen ( Javier Carmona and Lynne Baker ). These sixty-something lefty crusaders are unapologetic in their childlessness, and they take an instant disliking to Dan over his 2000 presidential vote for Ralph Nader.
The late arrival of the free-wheeling pot dealer Darcy ( Erin O'Brien in a gender switch from the originally named Dwight made with Gilman's permission ) doesn't add too much to the drama. Yet it's clear that Darcy will likely be dropped as a close friend once the others take on more parental responsibilities.
Director Derek Bertelsen works well with the emotional highs and lows of the cast, with each actor bringing out what makes their characters simultaneously endearing and/or annoying. Yet the production could use some fine tuning in terms of making the dialogue less stilted and to flow more conversationally.
The production also looks suitably like a cramped Chicago back yard, thanks to Jeremiah Barr's set design and Samantha Barr's sun-setting lighting design. Yet with such close proximity to an elaborate grill, you almost feel that some sizzling noises should have been cooked up by sound designer Melanie Thompson.
In The Crowd You're In With, Gilman emphasizes how important ( and difficult ) it is to find your own tribe of friends and companions. Even if you all largely agree, undiscussed issues can do irreparable damage, which makes the play such a cautionary and upsetting tale.